Clearly uneasy about incurring the wrath of hundreds of Arlington competitive swimmers and their parents, County Board members on March 18 sent staff back to the drawing board to address concerns that the government’s proposed new noise ordinance could make criminals out of those cheering on their teams.
Board members delayed, for a month, advertisement of the public hearing on the noise ordinance, to give staff the chance to craft an exemption for summer swim-league meets similar to those on the books for county-run youth and school sports.
The deferral came after representatives from three major county pools – Dominion Hills, Arlington Forest and Olverlee – said the proposed new regulations could subject them to fines and even jail time for raising too much of a ruckus.
“It would be unrealistic . . . to ask proud parents to curb their enthusiasm,” said Peter Fallon, representing the Donaldson Run Recreation Association, which operates a pool whose swimmers compete in Northern Virginia Swimming League (NVSL) meets during the summer months.
The Saturday-morning meets start early enough in the day that they would fall into a quiet time under the new noise ordinance. Complaints from neighbors about the noise emanating during that period would result in a visit from police.
Donaldson Run and other privately-operated pools in Arlington “strive to be good neighbors,” Fallon said, and county officials acknowledged that they can’t recall a complaint about noise levels at the boisterous meets held on weekends and sometimes on weekday evenings.
But “it only takes one person to complain” to trigger enforcement under the proposed ordinance, said Chris Flynn, representing the Overlee Community Association, which operates a multi-pool complex just south of Lee Highway. More than 250 Overlee swimmers and 100 divers compete in summer meets against other NVSL teams.
Noise at the pools comes from cheers and chants, along with the need to use a public-address system. “It is a loud but happy noise,” Flynn said.
The county’s extensive rewrite of its existing noise regulations was required following a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that tossed out standards for enforcement statewide. Under the proposed county rewrite, those found in violation of certain aspects of the noise ordinance could face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,500 in fines and 30 days in jail.
Under a timeline envisioned by staff, the County Board would have taken up the draft noise ordinance on April 12, likely approving it the same day. With the delay, the earliest board consideration would be May 10.
The delay also gives staff time to work through complaints from the Arlington County Civic Federation and several condominium associations, which contend that the proposed noise regulations give more protections from loud parties and community events to those in single-family communities than those living in Arlington’s mixed-use neighborhoods and in apartments.
Neighborhoods that have a mix of residential and retail spaces in close proximity – often in the same building – are attracting families and others who deserve as much protection as those in single-family neighborhoods, said Rosemary Ciotti, one who spoke in support of one standard for all residential areas.
After endless sleepless nights, some families have moved out of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Ciotti said.
“They couldn’t abide the noise,” she said.
County Board members gave little indication whether they would support calls for parity in noise rules between single-family and mixed-use neighborhoods, but asked the staff to craft an advertisement for public hearing that would give them the option of doing so.